Broad new immigration policies announced Tuesday under the Trump administration are heightening fears among people living in Ventura County without documentation, advocates for immigrants said.
The orders from the Department of Homeland Security also threaten to harm the agricultural industry, which is experiencing a worker shortage that will only grow worse if the government ramps up deportations, local farmers said.
“I don’t know who they think gets work done in this industry, but it’s the immigrants,” said Craig Underwood, owner of Underwood Ranches in Camarillo. “Anything that creates fear among workers is bad.”
Some people without legal immigration documentation are afraid to leave their homes to perform mundane tasks such as picking up their children from school or going to the grocery store, and rumors are circulating through social media about raids and roadblocks set up by immigration agents, advocates said.
This comes after the Department of Homeland Security issued sweeping orders Tuesday to increase immigration enforcement, placing the vast majority of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
The new enforcement policies instruct agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to identify, capture and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.
Homeland Security officials said the policies would not affect so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the United States illegally as children. But state Superintendent Tom Torlakson said Tuesday that applications for state financial aid were down significantly, and he encouraged undocumented students to apply because the information isn’t shared with other government agencies.
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, whose district includes part of Ventura, said ICE officials on the Central Coast have told him they will continue to focus on people who have committed serious crimes.
“I am deeply troubled by recent reports from across the country that immigrants with no criminal history are being arrested and deported as a result of the president’s executive orders,” Carbajal said in a statement. “Local ICE has informed our office that so far there has been no significant change in ICE operating procedure on the Central Coast.”
Lucas Zucker, policy director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, said the new orders come as immigrants without documentation are already distressed by Trump’s previous threats to crack down on illegal immigration and to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is going after people who haven’t done anything and have jobs and pay taxes,” Zucker said. “It casts this massive net to capture anybody, whether they’ve committed a crime or not, and says they’re all deportable.”
CAUSE estimates about 78,500 undocumented immigrants live in Ventura County, based on 2015 census data, and Zucker said there is an increased demand from the families his nonprofit serves for workshops on immigrants rights.
“There’s just panic around real or false reports of immigration raids spreading on social media,” he said. “It’s an atmosphere of terror. People are afraid to leave their houses, afraid to pick up their kids from school. Someone will say, ‘I heard ICE is in Santa Paula, so I’m not leaving my house today.’ ”
An ICE spokeswoman said Tuesday that the agency does not operate checkpoints.
“Officers and special agents make criminal and administrative arrests every day in the course of carrying out their mission to uphold public safety,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE’s Western region. “In all instances, however, our arrests are targeted — we don’t engage in indiscriminate sweeps or raids; we don’t operate checkpoints. Rumors of indiscriminate ‘raids,’ checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible.”
John Krist, chief executive officer of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, said increased deportations would be “potentially devastating to the agricultural industry, particularly in Ventura County.”
“The work we do here is labor intensive and difficult to mechanize,” he said.
Krist said he hasn’t heard of any extraordinary ICE activity on farms, but he has seen the anxiety among workers.
“The order is going to send ripples of alarm and fear throughout the undocumented community,” Krist said. “Undocumented workers are a significant part of agriculture, construction and service industries and this could affect a lot of people and families. The situation is more nuanced and complicated than the folks creating these orders understand.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-California, said in a statement that the plan will “strike fear in our immigrant communities that will harm our economy and public safety.”
“These guidelines imply that all immigrants should be treated as criminals, regardless of their background or lack of criminal history,” she said, “and will drain our local law enforcement resources because it makes them responsible for enforcing federal immigration law.”
Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, said in a statement that rather than “demonizing and denigrating immigrants,” the nation needs “comprehensive immigration reform.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, whose district includes Simi Valley, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. A spokesman for the Mexican consulate in Oxnard also could not be reached.
Barbra Williamson, a Trump supporter and Simi Valley resident, said she believes immigration agents will focus on the hardcore criminals, not the people who work hard.
“I think ICE is going to have their hands full just taking care of the criminals,” she said. “We need people here picking strawberries. We need people picking lettuce and cleaning hotel rooms. But if they’re picking strawberries and lettuce and cleaning hotel rooms and then they go out and murder somebody, then I want them out of here.”